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					WTAG binge-drinking research


Report of research and consultation conducted by MCM Research Ltd
for Wine Intelligence

September 2004




MCM Research Limited
27/28 St Clements, Oxford OX4 1AB
Tel: 01865 204211
Fax: 01865 793137
Email: group@sirc.org
WTAG Binge Drinking Research




Introduction
         The term ‘binge-drinking’ has, in recent years, come to replace earlier epithets
         such as ‘lager louts’ in discussions of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. The
         use of such a new term is taken by many commentators to imply that the
         phenomenon to which it relates is also quite novel. But in the way that
         aggressive outbursts from motorists were common long before the descriptor
         ‘road rage’ was coined, the patterns of behaviour that fall within the loose
         boundaries of binge-drinking also have a long ancestry in Britain. One only has
         to read The Pub and the People, written by Tom Harrisson and his Mass
         Observation colleagues in the late 1930s, to be reminded of this. He refers us,
         for example, to the annual report of the Worktown (Bolton) Temperance Society
         annual report of 1854 which commented1:

                   “That drunkenness is painfully prevalent in the Borough a thousand
                   facts bear most painful testimony. Men and women staggering along
                   the public streets, fights brawls of the most barbarous character …”

         The contemporary observations made by Harrisson and co in Bolton and
         Blackpool were, in many substantial ways, consistent with what we have seen in
         our research over the past 20 years and with the present-day patterns of activity
         in towns and cities all over the country. For example:

                    “At closing time back and front streets crowded, some people
                   dancing, men and women doing foxtrots and a group of women trying
                   to do a fling. Three observers independently estimate that at least 25
                   percent of the crowd are drunk … (Later.) Along the promenade the
                   air is full of beersmell that overcomes seasmell. It arises from people
                   breathing. A swirling, moving mass of mostly drink people, singing,
                   playing mouthorgans, groups dancing about. Chaps fall over and their
                   friends pick them up cheerfully and unconcernedly … a fight starts
                   among four young men: the crowd simply opens up to give them elbow
                   room as it flows by … One of the fighters is knocked out cold and the
                   others carry him to the back of a stall and dump him there … In a litter
                   of broken glass and bottles a women sits by herself being noisily
                   sick.”2

         Apart from the references to ‘foxtrots’ and ‘mouthorgans’ this description could
         well have referred to events in Nottingham, Watford or Brighton last weekend.
         Binge-drinking? — certainly. A result of the rapid expansion of licensed
         premises in town centres and a negative shift in alcohol-related behaviours as a
         consequence, or a new-found waywardness among young men and women in
         contemporary society? — hardly, given such historical precedents.



1
    Mass Observation (1943) The Pub and the People. London Gollancz, p236
2
    Ibid, p232


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      While these patterns of behaviour are very characteristic of what we take to be
      British drinking styles, they are not unique to this country. They are found
      elsewhere in what Levine (1992)3 and Peele (1997)4 describe as ‘temperance’
      cultures – predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries that have
      experienced the influence of strong Temperance movements. Such traditions
      have generated what is commonly referred to in the academic literature as a
      ‘cultural ambivalence’ towards alcohol, compared with the ‘integrated’
      approach that is characteristic of, say, Mediterranean countries and elsewhere
      that have not experienced to such a substantial degree the impact of religious
      and ideological anti-drinking forces. While these forces might be less evident
      today than in 1930s Bolton, their legacy remains – enshrined, for example in the
      complexity of current licensing laws, negative expectations regarding the
      outcomes of drinking and in the tendency towards ‘disinhibited’ drinking
      behaviours. We might also note that one of the most influential lobby groups
      concerned with drinking in this country, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, is
      entirely funded and managed by the United Kingdom Temperance Alliance.

      Much of the rationale for the new Licensing Act, of course, is based on the idea
      that reducing restrictions on alcohol availability will lead to parallel reductions
      in binge-drinking and other negative behaviours presumed to stem, at least in
      part, from out-dated and inappropriate Temperance traditions. Where alcohol is
      less controlled and more integrated into everyday life – as in, say, Italy and
      Spain – the routine events seen in British town and city centres on Friday and
      Saturday nights are rarely, if ever, witnessed.

      The approach, of course, has its strong critics and the prevalence and
      perseverance of binge-drinking is seen as evidence by some for the imposition
      of stricter controls rather than for liberalisation. The consensus among the
      majority of social researchers, however, based on extensive cross-cultural
      research, is that binge-drinking and other ‘aberrant’ patterns of alcohol
      consumption arise not from the chemical effects of alcohol (ethanol) itself but
      from a complex interaction between historical and cultural traditions, the
      dominant expectations in a society regarding the behavioural consequences of
      alcohol, the style of drinking places and the social dynamics of individuals and
      groups within them.5




3
 Levine, H.G. (1992). Temperance cultures: Concern about alcohol problems in Nordic and English-
speaking cultures. In M. Lader., G. Edwards and D.C. Drummond (eds.), The Nature of Alcohol and
Drug-Related Problems. (Society for the Study of Addiction, Monograph No. 2). Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
4
  Peele, S. (1997). Utilizing culture and behaviour in epidemiological models of alcohol consumption
and consequences for western nations. Alcoholism & Alcoholism. 32(1): 51-64.
5
 See, for example, Heath, D.B. (ed.). (1995). International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood


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         The idea that binge-drinking is a product of our continuing ambivalence about
         alcohol is not new, nor restricted to academic researchers. The novelist Doris
         Langley Moore wrote in the News Chronicle of June 1st, 1939:

                     “Licensing regulations, like many other old-fashioned methods of
                     dealing with potential evil, were framed under the simple illusion that
                     you can prevent people from doing something they want to do by
                     placing difficulties in their way. The most acute students of human
                     nature have long been aware that, on the contrary, difficulty frequently
                     acts as a first-rate incentive …”

         The author goes on to argue that if people in Britain were treated in this context
         like the ‘Latins, Hungarians, Rumanians’, etc. “we should adjust ourselves to
         the idea of being treated as rational creatures, and would behave as such.”

         It is, of course, too simple to say that binge-drinking is entirely caused by the
         restrictions we impose on alcohol consumption, and particularly on the hours
         during which drinking can take place. It is the case that in most towns and cities
         it is now possible to drink until 2.00am or later, although often at some
         considerable expense compared with pubs with ‘normal’ closing times. On the
         other hand, the fact that the determination to drink relatively large quantities of
         alcohol in a relatively short time is evident only in societies which impose such
         restrictions suggests that the two are not unconnected in some substantial way.

         While Britain stands out from its European neighbours in terms of patterns of
         alcohol consumption and related behaviours there is evidence of a small degree
         of convergence occurring between traditionally ambivalent and integrated
         drinking cultures. In the late 1980s and 90s, for example, there was a rapid rise
         in beer consumption in Spain, particular among young males. Associated with
         this rise was the emergence of the ‘litronas’ – groups of young men engaging in
         typically British fashion, drinking beer by the litre (hence their name), getting
         drunk and engaging in anti-social behaviour (see, for example, Rooney, 19916
         and Gamella, 19957). There are also similar but less extensive signs of such
         changes in some parts of France and Italy (see, for example, Nahoum-Grappe8,
         1995 Cottino9, 1995).

         In contrast, the adoption in Britain of more ‘continental’ styles of drinking
         establishments has been viewed as a positive development. The emergence of
         wine bars, Mediterranean style cafes and a type of pub less reminiscent of the



6
  Rooney, J.F. (1991). Patterns of alcohol use in Spanish Society. In Pittman, D.J. and White, H.R.
(eds.), Society, Culture and Drinking Patterns Reexamined. New Brunswick: Rutgers Center for
Alcohol Studies.
7
 Gamela, J.F. (1995). Spain. In D.B. Heath (ed.), International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.
8
    Nahoum-Grappe, V. (1995). France. In D.B. Heath (ed.) ibid.
9
    Cottino, A. (1995). Italy. In D.B. Heath (ed.) ibid


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     traditional, male-dominated ‘boozer’ has been claimed by some as heralding a
     shift in drinking behaviour away from the drunken ‘swill’ to a more ‘civilised’
     and ‘moderate’ pattern of consumption. This view, however, is rarely shared by
     police and other agencies in town and city centres that have been transformed
     into large drinking circuits and where the appearance of some bars and cafes is
     regarded as simply a cosmetic disguise for what are otherwise ‘vertical’
     drinking establishments.

     We have, then, the situation where, on the one hand, binge-drinking in 21st
     century Britain can be seen as simply as a continuation of timeless traditions of
     ambivalence about alcohol and its role in society. On the other hand we must
     recognise that changes are occurring in both the style of drinking places and in
     the types of drinks that are consumed within them. While the options available
     in 1930s Bolton were limited to ale, mild and porter for the men and port or
     sherry for the women, even modest pubs today provide a much greater variety
     of products from half-decent chardonnay via premium lagers to shots, shooters
     and alcopops. To what extent might these factors either exacerbate the binge-
     drinking traditions or provide some potential for their amelioration?

     It is against the background of these considerations that the modest field
     research reported below was designed and conducted. Like Tom Harrisson and
     his fellow mass observationists we started with a regard for history but also with
     an eye for what might be changing. We also started with a recognition of the
     fact that while binge-drinking might be nothing new it is, and always has been,
     problematic to one degree or another. There is nothing pleasant about the
     drunken and often aggressive demeanour of large groups of both men and
     women who constitute the late-night populations of most urban centres at
     weekends, even for most of the participants. The same was true of Blackpool in
     the 1930s.

     We have also been concerned not only with developing a more accurate
     description of the problem, but also with generating ideas which may be of
     some small assistance in dealing with the problem, particularly within licensed
     premises.




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Methodology
     The aim of the work was to identify typical patterns of so-called binge-drinking,
     and the types of drinks most commonly consumed, in three areas of the UK –
     London, Nottingham and Manchester.

     Informal interviews were conducted in a sample of town/city-centre pubs and
     bars with managers, staff and customers. Approximately 150 interviews were
     conducted in total involving the following individuals and broad protocols:
       •   Area managers, managers and senior staff. These focused on their
           perceptions of what defines binge-drinking; the types of people that most often
           exhibit such behaviour (e.g. gender, age, socio-economic class, etc.); the types
           of drinks consumed during various stages of the evening/night; the difficulty
           that their behaviour does or does not present to management; the strategies for
           dealing with the problem; etc.

       •   Bar staff. These focused more on their experiences of serving binge-drinkers;
           the types of drinks that they typically consumed; how such patterns changed
           during the course of the evening; etc.

       •   General Customers. These focused on their perceptions of binge-drinking and
           binge-drinkers; the types and volumes of drink most commonly associated with
           such patterns; the types of people most often involved; the consequences; etc

       •   Customers fitting the ‘binge-drinking’ profile. These focused on the types
           and volumes of drinks being purchased/consumed by those fitting the profile of
           binge-drinkers; their own experiences; their definitions of binge-drinking; their
           concepts of a ‘big night’; their motivations; etc

     Observation work, focusing on the types of drinks being consumed by binge-
     drinking groups, was also undertaken in each of the locations.

     In addition to this work an observation and interview study was conducted over
     two nights/early mornings at Bridewell Custody Suite, Nottingham. Police
     officers, Process Workers, Custody Sergeants, Detainment Officers and Alcohol
     Referral Workers were interviewed about their perceptions of binge-drinking;
     the types of people most often involved; the types of drink they typically
     consume; etc.




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Definitions of binge-drinking
     Definitions of binge-drinking were broadly consistent across the sample of
     Police, bar managers, bar staff and patrons. The most frequently cited were:
        •   Drinking with the intention of getting drunk, often mixing drinks

        •   Drinking to the point at which you lose control

        •   Drinking as much as possible in a short space of time

        •   Occasional, heavy drinking

     Interestingly, very few respondents defined binge-drinking in terms of specific
     units of alcohol consumed and there was little consistency between those that
     did. Many of the bar staff and patrons, although vague about actual government
     guidelines, believed that the limits set to define binge-drinking were too low.

      “The standard binge drinking government definitions are way too low, 4 – 5
      pints is not a realistic assessment of binge drinking” — Bar manager

     A definition of binge-drinking, based on units of alcohol consumed was deemed
     inappropriate by the majority of respondents. The consensus was that tolerance
     of alcohol varied significantly according to age, gender and even occasion.

      “I really don’t see units as a useful way of talking about alcohol – everyone’s
      tolerance levels are different.” — Bar manager

      “I think people see binge-drinking as a young people’s problem, but it’s not.
      They just can’t handle it as well. They’re more likely to go and do something
      stupid.” — Bar manager

      “It’s weird. Some nights you can keep drinking and not get drunk. You know,
      you end up drinking yourself sober. Other nights, a couple of pints and you’re
      lashed.” — Customer

     These sentiments highlighted a definition of binge-drinking that related to states
     of mind (i.e. ‘feeling drunk’) and types of behaviour that resulted from
     intoxication (loss of control, aggression etc). Intentionally or not the
     respondents did not differentiate between the actual unit quantity of alcohol,
     binge-drinking per se, and its associated consequences.

     Rarely were the long-term health implications mentioned when referring to
     binge-drinking. The respondents generally paid the price of a big night out in
     the short-term

      “Sometimes you don’t feel so clever. Thick head, skint, worried that you’ve
      behaved like a prat. You soon forget — until you do it the next time.” —
      Customer




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         The Interim analytical report10, prepared by the Strategy Unit Alcohol Harm
         Reduction Project, is also mindful of the problems inherent in a unit-based
         definition of binge-drinking:

                    “..binge-drinking is a debated term. Since alcohol will affect different
                    people in different ways, there is no fixed relationship between the
                    amount drunk and its consequences.”

         It would appear from the remarks made by the majority of the respondents that
         binge-drinking has little to do with what one might term a social evening out.
         For outsiders looking in, binge-drinking is the consumption of alcohol to a point
         where control and the usual rules that govern behaviour no longer seem to
         apply.

           “Binge-drinking is not about going out for a social night out. It’s about going
           out to get hammered. Going out to get as drunk as possible. It’s an entirely
           different thing.” – Bar manager

         For those admitting to binge-drinking, this loss of control and the ability to
         discard ‘the rules’ was seen as both an attraction and an inevitable consequence
         of drinking to excess.

           “It’s just having a laugh really. Going out with your mates and letting go.” —
           Customer

         Reports from both the police and alcohol referral workers are interesting in this
         context. The majority of those detained in Bridewell Custody Suite for alcohol-
         related incidents are first time offenders. For many, sobering up to find
         themselves in police custody is a new and often quite humbling experience. A
         common reaction expressed by these individuals on release is that arrest or
         detainment is an ‘occupational hazard’ of going on a big night out. A sense of
         embarrassment among the more compliant detainees is quite common, but even
         they are unlikely to display any sense of remorse.

           “Everyone behaves like this when they’re drunk, don’t they.”

         According to the police and alcohol referral workers the general reaction of
         detainees being questioned about drinking behaviour is “I always drink like
         this” which indicates regular excessive alcohol consumption. Of the 90% of the
         detainees that agreed to meet with the alcohol referral workers, 90% claimed
         that the incidents for which they have been detained were not their fault. Very
         few take responsibility for their own actions.

         A few ‘familiar faces’ do re-offend. These are mostly long-term chronic
         drinkers. When they do re-offend it tends to be in cycles. These cycles may
         involve them being detained up to five times in one week. According to an
         alcohol referral worker, this cyclical pattern of binge-drinking among chronic



10
     Interim analytical report. Strategy Unit Alcohol Harm Reduction Project


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     drinkers usually motivates them, if only temporarily, to try and address the
     problem.

      “After a series of episodes like this they get to think ‘Yeah, I think I need to
      sort this out.’” — Alcohol referral worker

Binge-drinking – a modern problem?
     By and large binge-drinking was cited as simply a ‘new label for an old
     problem’.

      “Binge-drinking is something that has always existed. Drinking to get drunk.
      People have always done that.” – Bar manager

     Even the police, who arguably deal with some of the most unpleasant fallout
     from binge-drinking, were generally loath to suggest that the situation was any
     worse now than it had been in the past.

      “Is it any worse? I don’t think so. Going back a generation you’d maybe put
      them in the cells for the night and tell them to sleep it off.” – Custody
      Sergeant

     There was a consensus that changes to police recording practices and the ‘media
     hype’ surrounding antisocial behaviour had skewed the true nature and scale of
     the problem.

     Some of the police and bar staff respondents did subscribe to the notion that
     binge-drinking was on the increase. These individuals, however, tended to be
     younger and /or newer to the job so arguably their comparisons may not be quite
     so reliable. A number of senior police staff also suggested that experienced
     police officers on the street were in some respects more lenient; they were likely
     to than their ‘young, over enthusiastic’ colleagues to give warnings before
     bringing offenders into the custody suite. There is also greater pressure on new
     recruits to make arrests.

     Some of the more seasoned bar managers even remarked that incidents of binge-
     drinking were actually on the decline.

      “Binge-drinking is not a new thing, especially in the City. Thursday nights
      have always been a big night out in town. If anything rates of binge-drinking
      have gone down, particularly with modern attitudes to drink-driving and fear
      of getting breathalysed.” – Bar manager

Causes
     Marketing, pricing & promotions
     A popular conception is that binge-drinking is fuelled, if not largely caused by
     heavy discounting practices. Promotions and special offers are seen by many to
     encourage unhealthy patterns of alcohol consumption. A few bar managers had
     some empathy with this point of view


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      “What causes binge-drinking? You only have to look at the price list.” – Bar
      manager

     Others believed it was a little less cut and dry. Cut-price drinks, it seems do not
     always equate to a consistently busy establishment.

      “On Wednesday nights, we have a £1.50 drinks night which is rarely as
      packed as you would expect — seems that happy hours etcetera don’t make
      much difference.” – Bar manager

      “These price cuts etc do not always affect binge-drinking levels in cities. If
      you offer the punters in here something for half price they’ll want to know
      what’s wrong with it.” – Bar manager

     These views were reinforced by the observational work and interviews with the
     customers of establishments that operated heavy discounting. Some bars and
     pubs that were renowned for cheap drinks, sometimes had a less than desirable
     reputation precisely because of the types of people they were thought to attract
     — young, aggressive binge-drinkers.

     To those patrons fitting the binge-drinking profile, particularly those in large
     stag and hen groups, these venues were seen as a good place to start, but they
     would rarely remain in these bars for any length of time. These were not
     regarded as destination pubs, more stopping off points and as such were often
     relatively empty by closing time.

     A number of pub managers believed that discounting in rural and less affluent
     areas had more influence on binge drinking than it did in cities.

      “If you’ve only got a few quid, and you want to get drunk, then obviously price
      is important. Customers in my old pub, a traditional working class boozer on
      the outskirts of the city, regularly used to drink the cheap stuff.” – Bar
      manager

     Managers of the city venues, however, were aware of core, ‘hardened drinkers’
     that effectively followed a circuit of pubs that offered discounts on different
     days of the week.

     There was little doubt in the minds of the alcohol referral workers and some of
     the police that ‘aggressive’ marketing and promotion practices had a significant
     effect on the incidents of binge-drinking.

      “Some specific venues are involved in aggressive marketing practices that I
      believe are irresponsible and inappropriate. Shots being taken from table to
      table, on a tray, which encourages customers to consume more alcohol,
      particularly when they are in large groups. I think society is paying the price
      for this.” – Alcohol referral worker

     Heavily stylised television advertising campaigns were also cited by alcohol
     referral workers and a few bar staff as influencing binge-drinking behaviour. In
     this context pre-packaged spirits were most significantly implicated.



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     Up-selling
     The practice of ‘up-selling’ was mentioned on a number of occasions, mostly by
     bar staff and customers. The prevalence of shots, and their prominent in-house
     promotion increased alcohol consumption, particularly among those with a
     propensity to binge-drink. These individuals often required little persuasion to
     augment their rounds with chasers.

      “They get to the bar and see the bottle of Aftershock and that’s it.” – Bar staff

     Experienced bar managers, however were quick to point out that the practice of
     drinking shorts as chasers is not new. The drinks involved may have changed
     but the practice itself remains the same.

      “The range of drinks is wider now. We didn’t have Aftershock or anything
      when I was a teenager, you just drank whisky.” — Bar manager

     Wine was cited frequently in the context of up-selling. It appeared to be an
     almost universal practice to offer a bottle to customers who ordered two glasses
     or more, on the basis that buying by the bottle represented better value for
     money. Observing this practice on a significant number of occasions this up-sell
     was in most instances accepted by the patrons.

     Disposable income
     It was a common perception among the respondents that a rise in young
     people’s disposable income had an influence on episodes of binge-drinking.

     Broad societal shifts, delaying the age at which young people ‘settle down’, get
     married and start a family, may mean that the slightly older generation now has
     more money to spend on socialising and fewer responsibilities that would
     restrict their ability to go out.

      “Kids just seem to have more cash these days and they seem to want to spend
      a lot of it getting drunk.” – Bar manager

     Licensing restrictions & licensing environment
     There was a consensus among the customers and bar workers that drinking-up
     times exacerbated binge-drinking by encouraging consumption of significant
     quantities of alcohol in a short period of time.

      “It gets to closing time and the whole bar goes nuts. They’re either going to a
      club, where the drinks cost more or going home. Either way they seem to want
      to cram a bit more drink down their necks.” – Bar manager

     This view was not as well represented among the police. To the police and
     alcohol referral workers the city environment had a significant impact on the
     levels of binge-drinking. A large number of bars and clubs in a relatively
     confined geographical area, it was felt, increased incidents of antisocial
     behaviour particularly at peak ‘throwing out’ times.



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     Competition between venues was also linked, by some police and bar managers,
     to irresponsible promotions and discounting practices.

      “Binge-drinking. All you have to do is look at the huge blackboards outside
      pubs comparing their prices with those of other pubs around.” – Bar
      manager

     Other environmental issues have also come into play, influencing patterns of
     binge-drinking and antisocial behaviour.

      “Nottingham is such a small city and most provincial pub-clubs have closed
      down, everyone piles into the city centre. Along with this (because Nottingham
      is straight off the M1 and easy to get to) you get all your stag and hen parties
      of all age groups travelling to Nottingham for a night out. Combine this with a
      surge of students during term time and you get drink-aggravated violence etc
      as so many groups converge on to the city centre.” – Custody Officer

Consumption – types of alcohol involved in binge-drinking
     The most frequently reported drinks associated with binge-drinking were lager,
     shots, pre-packaged spirits and vodka, particularly when served with Red Bull.
     A big night would often involve mixing drinks and there was evidence of a
     binge-drinking routine; periods during the ‘session’ where certain types of
     drinks were consumed at certain points of the evening.

      “If people are going to get hammered, they tend to start on beer then move on
      to shots” – Bar manager

      “The shooters are always popular with students” – Bar staff

      “People tend to start on pints or halves early on then after 10.30 move on to
      more spirits like tequila slammers before heading off to the nightclubs.” – Bar
      manager

     Media has predominately focused on the role of alcopops in binge-drinking and
     antisocial behaviour. Judging by the responses of the majority of those
     interviewed, this focus is probably not misplaced. One bar manager, however
     eloquently dismissed the media and the government’s pre-occupation with these
     products.

      “The media and the government always seem to bang on about alcopops. I
      think that’s a bit blinkered. They regard binge-drinking as a new problem and
      therefore they tend to blame new products for it. I don’t think either is correct
      or helpful.” – Bar manager

     Interviews with bar patrons and bar staff indicated that wine did sometimes play
     a role in binge-drinking episodes, all be it a minor one.

      “Wine does not really come into the binge drinking picture.” – Bar manager




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      In only a few interviews was wine reported to be the only alcohol involved in
     instances of binge-drinking. It was generally reported to be just one of a number
     of drinks consumed over the course of an evening or a ‘session’.

      “I’ll maybe have a glass of wine to get me in the mood before I go out. I don’t
      generally drink it that much when I’m out.” – Customer

Influences on alcohol type
     The types of alcohol preferred in the context of binge drinking appeared to be
     largely influenced by gender, time of day, social group, location, price and
     alcohol content.

     Gender
     Individual preferences for particular alcoholic drinks showed marked
     differences between the sexes. In general terms it was reported by the
     respondents that men tended to opt for lager, shooters and other shorts. Women
     were more likely to consume pre-packaged spirits and wine. Women were also,
     according to a number of reports more likely to be adventurous with their choice
     of drink. There was a consensus among those interviewed that mixing drinks
     significantly influenced states of drunkenness.

      “If men are going out to get hammered, they tend to start on beer, then move
      on to JD or rum and coke. Women are more likely than men to try different
      drinks over the course of an evening, and so tend to get a bit more drunk due
      to this mixing.” – Bar manager

     A few bar managers suggested that the consumption of pre-packaged spirits, by
     men, was on the increase, and this was gradually replacing the ‘traditional’ pint
     as the drink of choice. Advertising, it was claimed may have had a role to play
     in this shift.

      “More men are drinking pre-mix bottles etc and other non-pint drinks…PPS
      marketing focuses more on individuals than on groups, which means that it
      caters for a wider range of tastes.” – Bar manager

     Conversations with women customers highlighted other motivations for
     drinking pre-packaged spirits. Pre-mixed drinks in bottles were felt to be more
     convenient and practical, particularly in ‘vertical’ drinking establishments. On a
     number of occasions safety was mentioned as reason for choosing these drinks.
     The rise in the profile and prevalence of drug rape has led some women to be
     guard their drinks more vigilantly. Some female respondents said that the
     ‘beauty’ of bottled drinks was that you could put your thumb over the bottle
     when you were not drinking and were less likely to leave your drink unattended.

      “The bottles are good. You can wander around the pub with them.” –
      Customer

     The involvement of wine in a ‘big night out’ was largely seen as the preserve of
     women. Observational work, conducted in three cities confirmed this view.


MCM Research                       September 2004                        Page 13 of 24
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     Generally men, if they did drink wine, tended only to have the ‘odd glass’. A
     couple of bar managers, however, suggested that they had increasingly noticed
     men drinking wine, believing that this to be motivated by social aspiration.

      “They reckon wine makes them look more sophisticated.” – Bar manager

     In London, it was common for the “city boys” to drink wine and a some pubs
     had developed ‘quality’ wine list to cater for their tastes and budgets.

      “[Drinking wine] is seen as a trendy ‘city guy’ thing” – Bar manager

     Time of day
     Observational work conducted suggested that the most common time of day for
     wine drinking was lunchtime and early evening. This seemed to confirm the
     comments made by respondents that if wine featured in a ‘session’ then it
     tended to do so early on.

     Consumption of both wine and beer were largely used to “get the night going”.
     Shooters tended to feature more significantly later in the evenings before
     closing times or before moving on to different venues.

      “Towards the end of the night there is a perceivable move towards spirits,
      especially with the cheap offers that are available.” – Bar manager

     Reports from the respondents also made reference to two distinct types of early
     evening drinking behaviour – the post-work drinking and the start of a ‘session’.
     In most of the city bars and pubs it was common to have customers in that were
     ‘winding down’ after work. This type of drinking usually consisted of a few
     glasses of wine or “a couple of pints”, before going home relatively early and
     appeared to have little relevance to binge-drinking.

     This was in marked contrast to drinking behaviour witnessed that was clearly
     motivated by the desire to get drunk. In these incidences there was an increase
     in the speed of drinking, mixing drinks and the prevalence of pre-packaged
     spirits.

     Social group
     The social dynamic within a group also significantly influenced the type of
     alcohol consumed. The women interviewed generally commented that when
     they were with other girl friends wine was often the drink of choice. A number
     of hen parties observed also started with bottles of wine before moving on to
     shots and pre-packaged spirits.

     The male respondents also claimed that drinking habits changed according to
     the make up of the group. Men were more likely to drink wine when they were
     in a mixed group and more likely to drink lager when they were ‘out with the
     lads’.




MCM Research                      September 2004                        Page 14 of 24
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     Comments were made by bar staff and customers that linked certain types of
     drinks with specific social groups. While these are obviously broad
     generalisations that may involve a degree of ‘social prejudice’ their
     assessments, in the interest of thoroughness, are arguably worth noting.

      “I generally don’t have much of a problem with binge drinkers, apart from
      groups of Chinese men who come in and ‘drink to death’. They like a lot of
      sweet drinks, shots and shooters. Students will sometimes ask what is your
      cheapest shot?” – Bar manager

      “Shooters are popular with students, “chavs” from out of town will go for the
      alcopops. You don’t often see people binge-drinking on real ales. Mind you, I
      suppose you do get old men in pubs who will sit all day drinking real ale. As
      for wine – wine generally with a meal rather than part of a binge, there’s an
      emphasis on sharing with a group of friends, perhaps as a starter before going
      out.” – Bar manager

     Location
     Given that the interviews and observation work was conducted in city-centre
     bars it is unsurprising that these were the most frequently cited locations for
     binge-drinking. Big nights involving heavy drinking often started and finished
     in the popular city drinking circuits.

     The most commonly reported location for drinking wine was in the home. In the
     context of binge-drinking wine consumption in the home often consisted of
     ‘necking a few glasses’ before going out.

     Price
     There was a consensus among the respondents that price significantly impacts
     on binge-drinking and the type of alcohol consumed. Reports of customers
     approaching the bar and asking for the cheapest wine, beer, shot etc. were
     common.

     The patrons interviewed welcomed two-for-one offers, ‘buy two glasses of wine
     get the bottle free’ etc. and would often visit venues offering discounts and
     promotions to get the evening started.

      “That’s just common sense – young people saving money” – Bar manager

     Price was also regarded as a significant reason for drinking wine. In a number of
     venues that we visited a bottle of wine could be purchased for as little as £4.95.
     Up selling – from two glasses to a bottle for example – appeared to be a
     universally accepted and implemented practice. A number of establishments
     were also running special offers promoting wine: ‘1 bottle of wine and 4 plates
     of cheesy chips for only £9.95!’




MCM Research                       September 2004                        Page 15 of 24
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     Alcohol content
     It would appear that the type of alcohol consumed during binge-drinking
     episodes has little to do with palatability. While cost is important, a more
     frequent motivation may actually be the strength or the feeling of drunkenness
     that a particular drink induces.

      “I’ve noticed an increase in the use of strong lagers — Special Brew, Tenants
      Super — especially by young people. Also shots are commonly mentioned,
      particularly Aftershock, but also absinthe.” – Alcohol referral worker

     With wine becoming increasingly cheap in pubs and bars, more people are
     turning to it as an economical method of getting drunk – described by one of our
     interviewees as the ‘bang per buck’ factor. Two bar managers independently
     reported bottles of wine being ordered with pint glasses on the basis that pound
     for pound drinking wine in this manner would get them more drunk than lager.

Occasions – particular events associated with binge-drinking
     Binge-drinking was reported as being most prevalent at the weekends, when
     significant numbers of people converge on town and city centres. However,
     promotional nights during the week, targeting specific audiences such as
     students, meant that binge-drinking was not necessarily confined to the
     weekends.

      “Binge-drinking occurs during main events [EURO 2004] as well as
      weekends, the middle of the week can be just as busy” – Detainment Officer

      “It’s Freshers’ week next week. That’s usually quite eventful.” – Alcohol
      referral worker

     Publicity surrounding the ‘lawlessness’ of city centres at the weekend has, in
     effect, exacerbated the perception among some sections of society that these
     places are ‘no go areas’. These people where therefore more likely to have a
     ‘big night out’ during the week.

      “Thursday night is a big night for a lot of people as they don’t like the
      Saturday night culture” – Bar manager

     A commonly reported theme was the extent to which the rise of hen and stag
     parties in city centres significantly contribute to incidents of binge-drinking. It is
     fair to assume that Nottingham, Manchester and the West End are reasonably
     representative of large UK cities as a whole, offering a wide range of drinking
     and entertainment opportunities which when combined with the ‘city buzz’ and
     cheap accommodation, are a natural focal point for these types of events. It is
     clear that the motivation behind stag and hen nights is different from the
     ‘average’ night out

      “They’re here just to get pissed out of their brains.” – Bar manager




MCM Research                        September 2004                          Page 16 of 24
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     Stag and hen parties also draw in people who are perhaps less familiar with and
     arguably less able to deal with the multitude and variety of attractions available
     in the modern UK city. Being from ‘out of town’, as a number of respondents
     suggested, was like being issued a ‘license to misbehave’; the consequences of
     binge-drinking away from home were fewer.

     Some bar managers speculated that the motivations for going out drinking had
     changed. Where previously social outings used to be for a specific celebration,
     young people went out now simply because they could.

      “People have different reasons for drinking now, don’t reserve it just for
      weddings, birthdays or other celebrations.” – Bar manager

     When asked to discuss their most recent ‘big night out’, bar patrons, predictably
     recounted quite varied experiences that reflected this perception of a change in
     drinking behaviour. Birthdays, hen/stag parties and general celebrations, as one
     might expect, were the most commonly reported occasions in which binge-
     drinking was likely to occur. Self reports among the more ‘hardcore’ binge-
     drinker invariably involved less tangible reasons such as ‘giro day’, ‘pay day’
     and ‘because I can’.

Frequency of binge-drinking
     The frequency of binge-drinking episodes reported by the bar patrons showed
     little consistency. Responses varied between ‘two or three times a week’ to
     ‘hardly ever’. The popular perception was that many young people tended to
     binge-drink every weekend. Although there may be some truth in this, anecdotal
     evidence from the individuals we interviewed did not support this claim. The
     respondents that we talked to reported drinking heavily far less often. There was
     a tendency for men to report more frequent binge-drinking episodes than
     women.

Motivations
     The most frequent reason cited for binge-drinking was escapism. Among bar
     staff, patrons, police and alcohol referral workers binge-drinking was viewed as
     a method by which people could temporarily break loose from their personal
     and professional responsibilities.

     “People drink to escape their own lives – the problem has been developing over
     thirty years, it’s a release for the working class to forget their hard monotonous
     jobs” – Bar manager

     Getting drunk was seen, by many of the customers interviewed as their
     fundamental right; a reward for getting through another week.

      “I work hard so I’ll play hard.” — Customer

      “Binge Drinkers consider it ‘their right’. It’s a release for the working class to
      forget their own lives, and they’re interested in what they drink.” – Bar
      manager


MCM Research                       September 2004                         Page 17 of 24
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     Self-reports of the motivations behind binge-drinking were less considered,
     particularly among the younger age groups – 18-24 year olds. ’Getting wasted’,
     ‘letting rip’ and ‘having a laugh’ were seen as the norm within their peer group.
     To some extent binge-drinking was also regarded as a rite of passage.

     There appeared to be little consensus among the respondents as to whether
     binge-drinking episodes were largely planned or spontaneous. Obviously the big
     social gatherings — stag/hen parties, birthdays etc. — required a degree of
     organisation, but there was also significant reports of a ‘few beers’ turning into
     a large night out.

Binge-drinking locations
     Self-reports of the location of binge-drinking episodes largely focused on the
     respondents’ experiences in bars, pubs and clubs. Given that the interviews were
     conducted in town centres on Fridays and Saturdays this is to be expected. Very
     few admitted excessive drinking at home.

     Interviews with police and alcohol workers revealed the prevalence of binge-
     drinking in the home and its role in incidents of domestic violence. While the
     public profile of binge-drinking focuses on antisocial behaviour in town centres,
     the view expressed by the police was that domestic incidents resulted in a
     significant proportion of the people being detained as a consequence of binge-
     drinking. It was in this context that wine was most significantly implicated.
     According to police and alcohol referral workers, wine was often involved in a
     significant number of domestic violence incidents, particularly those involving
     middle class families.

Profile of the binge-drinker

     Age
     The dominant perception of all of the respondents was that binge-drinking was
     most evident among young people. Although the 18-24 year age group is also
     most commonly cited by government bodies and the media, the results from our
     qualitative research indicated that 25-34 year olds were almost as likely to binge
     as their younger counterparts.

      “Binge-drinking covers a wide age group.” – Detainment Officer

      “It’s not just the 18 – 35 age group, there are groups of 40-something men
      who regularly do the Sunday circuit of cheap pubs” – Bar manager

      “Sometimes the thirty something stockbrokers can be as bad as teenagers, or
      in fact worse because they are more aggressive.” – Bar manager

      “My customers are usually in a higher age bracket which means they have
      more money and an ability to drink for a longer time” -– Bar manager




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     Gender
     While the majority of respondents believed that binge-drinking was primarily a
     male preoccupation, reports of women being increasingly involved in this
     activity were common. When asked to comment on trends in drinking
     behaviour, respondents from the police and alcohol workers cited the increase in
     female detainees as one of the most significant changes in recent years.

      “Women are just as much a problem We see more drunk women now than
      ever before. We have had to adapt to that. The way you deal with women is
      different, in some respects it’s more difficult. Women tend to get quite ‘gobby’
      and end up getting themselves arrested.” — Custody Sergeant

     Social class
     Results from the qualitative research suggest that binge-drinking spans all social
     groups. Interviews with police revealed that representatives from most
     professions had been detained at one time or another for incidents related to
     alcohol. On occasions descriptions of binge-drinkers were quite defamatory

      “Binge-drinkers are young, 18-25 male football fans with no social skills.” –
      Bar manager

      “They’re townies that can’t handle their drink.” – Bar manager

     These perceptions may arguably reflect social prejudice more accurately than
     they reflect the true social make up of the binge-drinker, but comments from bar
     managers tended to support the view that binge-drinking was more common
     among the working classes.

     Some patrons’ perception of their own drinking behaviour was different from
     their perception of other people’s drinking habits. They went out on a big night,
     had a few beers etc. It was other people, not them that got involved in binge-
     drinking. The respondents offered simple and quite insightful definitions of
     binge-drinking which were remarkably consistent, but when it came down to
     descriptions of their own patterns of consumption this term was rarely used.
     Perhaps this illustrates the social stigma attached to binge-drinking and the fact
     that binge-drinking is associated with a loss of control. Either way it would
     appear that binge-drinking was not a popular way of defining one’s own
     drinking behaviour.

Strategies to confront binge drinking
     Bar managers and bar staff in all three locations were asked to describe their
     strategies to confront binge-drinking. None of these respondents believed that
     binge-drinking was a problem that they experienced in their own establishment.
     The consensus was that they were always able to identify problem drinking and
     drinkers before the situation got out of control.

      “We’re very strict on keeping a tight eye on people deliberately drinking more
      than they can handle.” – Bar manager


MCM Research                       September 2004                         Page 19 of 24
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      “There is always a point at which you stop serving – there tends not to be any
      real problem in throwing people out of the pub as I never let them get too
      wasted.” – Bar manager

     This level of vigilance was widely regarded as the most effective method of
     confronting binge-drinking. Bar staff also suggested that they had to be
     particularly conscientious in light of the publicity surrounding binge-drinking
     and the government’s high profile clampdown.

     Other bar managers had adopted techniques in an attempt to discourage binge-
     drinking and the types of people most associated with it.

     “I have deliberately cleaned up and brightened the pub to attract female
     drinkers – there is now a fairly mixed crowd.” – Bar manager

     Certain events were thought to encourage or exacerbate binge-drinking. Some
     pub managers preferred to shut up shop on these occasions if they had that level
     of autonomy.

      “I did not open the doors on May Day as this would have caused a lot of
      bother” – Bar manager

     Nearly all the bar managers relied heavily on professional door supervisors to
     screen customers and pre-empt problems associated with binge-drinking. Their
     ability to remove ‘trouble makers’ quietly and effectively was thought by many
     bar staff to be essential.

      “We always have four door staff on duty – there are never any problems in the
      pub” – Bar manager

     To some, high visibility policing and a large police presence offered an extra
     level of reassurance. Pubwatch schemes and radio links between other venues
     and the authorities were also perceived to be of significant value in reducing
     problems associated with binge-drinking.

      “We have a high police presence here and a direct line to the police if we
      should ever need them urgently” – Bar manager

      The majority of the pubs and bar visited also displayed prominent notices
      notifying customers of their intention to check for a valid ID. Given that a
      number of bar managers were of the opinion that young people were less
      likely to be able to handle alcohol, this appears to be a sensible and necessary
      cautionary approach as well as a legal requirement.

Social acceptability of binge drinking
     There was some suggestion among the respondents that getting drunk had
     become more socially acceptable. On the basis of this rather modest sample it
     would probably be a little unwise to conclude that this is actually the case.
     Indeed, one bar manager believed that attitudes to alcohol were actually passed




MCM Research                       September 2004                        Page 20 of 24
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     down through the generations. In his experience individuals often adopted the
     drinking behaviours of their parents.

     One bar manager drew comparisons between the social acceptability of binge-
     drinking with that of drink driving.

      “Just a couple of decades ago, a few drinks and driving weren’t seen as too
      bad, now it’s totally unacceptable. Government seems to be pushing same way
      with binge-drinking. I don’t know, perhaps it will be seen as totally
      unacceptable in a few years.” – Bar manager

     What we can conclude with some degree of certainty from the anecdotal
     evidence is that ‘excessive’ alcohol consumption among women has increased
     in the recent years. Women out drinking – sometimes heavily – it would appear
     is now the norm rather than the exception.

      “There are definitely more drunk women around than he used to see. Most
      drink ready to drink pre-mixes (Reef etc) and then move on to shots. There is
      broader mix of people, 50/50 sex divide.” – Bar manager

      “There has definitely been an increase in women drinking. More women drink
      in this pub than at his previous pub. They are sometimes “worse than the
      blokes”, can be very noisy, putting off other customers in for a quiet drink.” –
      Bar manager

Conclusions
     The most frequently implicated types of alcoholic drinks in incidents of binge
     drinking were pre-packaged spirits, shots and lager. This is perhaps what one
     might expect. There was an over-riding perception that a single binge-drinking
     episode often involved more than one type of drink, and indeed reports of
     deliberately mixing drinks were common. To some, binge-drinking was actually
     defined by this criteria.

      “Binge-drinking is drinking too many lethal combinations all at once.” –
      Detainment Officer

     While generic terms were often used for these drinks, a few were singled out by
     the respondents in the context of binge-drinking – most notably Aftershock and
     Tenants Super. Both shots and ‘super-strength’ lagers were linked to binge-
     drinking precisely because of their high alcohol content and the type of
     consumption patterns they were seen to encourage.

     Issues surrounding pre-packaged spirits were slightly more concerned with
     notions of taste. An opinion expressed by some interviewees was that pre-
     packaged spirits simply did not taste alcoholic. They were seen to be most
     popular with women and young people who had a ‘less developed palate’ for
     alcohol. Packaging and promoting drinks that contained alcohol but were easy
     to drink was seen, by some, as irresponsible.




MCM Research                      September 2004                        Page 21 of 24
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     According to the majority of the respondents wine was not significantly
     implicated in binge-drinking. Where wine did feature it rarely did so in isolation
     and usually involved the consumption of other alcoholic drinks. Wine was
     generally more likely to be consumed by female or mixed groups at lunchtime
     or at the beginning of the evening.

     Discounts and promotions were frequently cited as exacerbating binge-drinking
     and anti-social behaviour. While balancing commercial interests with social
     responsibility has its inherent difficulties, it is arguably in the context of
     marketing that the industry is most likely to find itself at loggerheads with
     members of the health profession and the police.

     In-house promotions deployed in many pubs, bars and clubs offer tempting
     value for those with the intention of getting drunk. To an alcohol referral worker
     antisocial behaviour was the price society paid for these practices. ‘Shooter
     girls’ and up-selling shots at the table were viewed as being particularly
     irresponsible, especially when they targeted groups. Prominent in-house
     displays of Aftershock and other brands of shots were evident in many of the
     establishments visited and posters and leaflets advertising their presence were
     liberally scattered throughout the venues.

     In some venues wine was also subject to generous discounts. While this may
     drive up consumption it may also result in wine being more significantly
     implicated in binge-drinking. Buy two glasses get the rest of the bottle free,
     discounted wine and food combinations and up-selling from two glasses to a
     bottle all occurred with varying frequency in the bars that we visited. The up-
     selling was a particularly reported and observed practice with regards to wine.

     There is also some evidence to suggest that the alcoholic content of wine, when
     compared to its cost, represents a potentially attractive proposition to the binge-
     drinker. It was reported on a couple of occasions that wine had been ordered
     with a pint glass.

      While wine escapes an association with binge-drinking ‘out on the town’ it is
     more significantly implicated in incidents of domestic violence, particularly
     involving middle class families.

     Ironically, wine’s appeal to the socially aspiring may be influencing less
     desirable patterns of consumption.

     The bar managers and staff all categorically stated that they would refuse to
     serve individuals that had drunk too much and observational work within these
     bars confirmed that this indeed, was the case. It is clear, however that these
     individuals are getting drinks from somewhere. It may be the case that the less
     reputable establishments may be undermining this basic code of conduct. If so,
     this could negatively impact on the reputation of the industry as a whole.




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     About MCM
     MCM Research Ltd has over 23 years' experience of research and consultancy
     in the field of alcohol-related disorder and violence and the operation and
     management of licensed premises.

      On the basis of extensive research MCM have developed selection and training
     procedures in the management of alcohol-related conflict and violence for most
     of the major pub retail companies, consortia of regional operators and trade
     organisations such as the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association and the
     Portman Group. MCM have also provided services in a similar capacity for
     major night-club companies. These programmes have been widely recognised
     for their effectiveness in reducing levels of violence and disorder and have
     attracted recognition in forms such as the National Training Award.

     In 1992 MCM Research published Drinking and Public Disorder. This reports a
     two-year programme of research on alcohol-related disorder in town centres in
     various parts of the country. It is generally accepted as a balanced perspective
     on the issues and the best ways of tackling them. For this reason it is the only
     work of an independent company which is specifically considered in the
     government's recent White Paper, Time for Reform: Proposals for the
     Modernisation of Our Licensing Laws, where the key recommendations of the
     report are summarised in paragraphs 63 and 64. Substantial reference to this
     work is also contained in the Home Office publication Alcohol and Crime:
     Taking Stock, described as one of a series of documents “relevant to
     practitioners involved in crime reduction at the local level.”

     Following this MCM developed a guide to the prevention of alcohol-related
     disorder at local levels called Keeping the Peace. This is published by The
     Portman Group (now in a revised and updated form) and widely distributed to
     Licensing Justices, police forces, local authorities etc.

     MCM have also conducted research on behalf of the Home Office and worked
     closely with a number of police forces on effective ways of reducing late-night
     street disturbances. Representatives from the company have given briefings on
     the subject to groups of MPs, parliamentary committees and to the Cabinet
     Office.

     MCM have conducted comparative research on drink-related behaviour in a
     number of European countries including Holland, Italy, Spain and France. In
     Holland MCM also examined closely the impact of the deregulation of licensing
     hours, obtaining first-hand information from police officers, venue operators
     and from government officials in the Hague.

     Further international work has been conducted in Australia, leading to the
     development of training initiatives for pub and bar operators which were
     launched by the Australian Minister for Health.

     Recognising the company’s extensive experience of the 'real-life' problems,
     MCM were approached by the Ministry of Defence to conduct a major
     programme of research to provide a basis for the Army's new Alcohol and


MCM Research                      September 2004                        Page 23 of 24
WTAG Binge Drinking Research

         Drugs Policy. This involved detailed work throughout the UK and in Cyprus,
         Germany, Gibraltar, Croatia and Bosnia. The main findings and
         recommendations of my reports have now been incorporated into the MoD's
         policy documents and form the basis for new regulatory and educational
         procedures.

         MCM have conducted a programme of research for the Portman Group which
         focused on the definition, recording and collating of information on alcohol-
         related violence and disorder. This was in response to the observation by the
         Home Office that “… there are no official statistics collected systematically
         making it impossible to gain a true picture of the role of alcohol in crime at a
         national level.”11 The report12 , published by the Portman Group in February
         2002, makes a number of recommendations for obtaining greater accuracy and
         consistency in this area.

         MCM have also undertaken research for Department for the Environment, Food
         and Rural Affairs (Defra) The principal aim of the study, Implications for noise
         disturbance arising from the liberalisation of licensing laws, was to assess the
         potential impacts of the proposed Licensing Act on noise disturbance related,
         directly or indirectly, to the operation of licensed premises. This was to provide
         a basis for the anticipation of possible noise problems, if any, and proactively
         indicates appropriate ways of tackling them.




11
     Deehan, A. , Home Office Briefing Note (9/00)
12
     Counting the Cost: The Measurement and Recording of Alcohol-Related Crime and Disorder.


MCM Research                               September 2004                           Page 24 of 24

				
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